‘Wife’ Jokes, Seriously? In a Country Where Wives Barely Have a Voice?

By Unsanskari Stree

It’s like a little epidemic spread across all my WhatsApp groups. The ‘wife’ jokes, the ‘women’ jokes, the ‘mother-in-law’ jokes. The jokes where men are bashed, rendered dumb, miserable and helpless by their bitter/better halves. I’ve actually screamed in capitals at people, called out the dumb jokes and asked people what they find funny in it.

In most cases, I am seen as a person who does not have a sense of humour.

Tell me, do you laugh at people if they are blind? Or if they cannot walk? Or if they have cancer? Then why would you laugh at married Indian women? How did these women go from being one of the most battered and disempowered group in the country to bullying harridans who make marriage a losing battle for Indian men? Why do these men get married in the first place?

I suppose that in a country and society where we mostly marry and have kids because we are of age and that is the thing to do, it is no surprise that small resentments would simmer over in a slew of thinly disguised humour.

My assumption is that these jokes cover a complicity of silence. The ‘nagging wife’ jokes exist because joking about marital rape, wife-beating, dowry, honour killings and everyday sexism is really not possible. In fact, let me present some interesting figures for you, because joking about it would really not be in good taste.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 3,27,394 cases of crime against women were reported in 2015 alone, of which the largest chunk is domestic cruelty, accounting for a whopping 1,13,403 of cases. Mind you, many more cases go unreported. According to the National Family and Health Survey in 2015-16, 31% of ever-married women have faced violence at some point in their lives, the most common type being physical (27%), followed by emotional violence (13%) and sexual (6%); most victims face a combination of these.

Three percent of ever-pregnant women have experienced physical violence during pregnancy. One of four victims of domestic violence ends up with severe injuries – from dislocations, burns and deep wounds, to broken teeth and bones. Only 14% victims of domestic violence have ever sought help, and it’s no wonder because 52% women believe that men are justified in beating wives, though, hallelujah, the proportion of men who believe so has fallen in recent years to 42%.

The same survey also found that violence against women increases the older they are and is far higher among married women than women who never marry. Though education reduces the chance of a wife being beaten, women who are employed are more likely to face violence (35%) than those who are not employed (24%). Male ego, much? Marital laws in India are also one of the most archaic in the world and need immediate rectification, according to women’s rights activists.

So now who is really the battered sex in our country and are men really as battered as these WhatsApp jokes project?

I recall an extremely offensive joke forwarded to me last year by someone I had considered dating. The offending joke – sent on Women’s Day, if you please – asked why wives didn’t use their mouths for more useful things, besides talking. I’m sure you get the picture. The said gentleman also often made inane comments about my weight, about working women spending time on their knees to get ahead, and so on. He was 50 years old, 5’4″, and lived in the grimiest house I had ever seen in my life. He told me I lacked compassion, and I replied, what I did not lack was a sense of irony! Also, my ‘supposed’ extra weight and fitness training would have allowed me to knock him down and sock his face, but my mother brought me up better than that.

My theory is that Indian men make up jokes about women because that’s how they ‘feel like men’. Masculinity today stands on its head, with most of its age-old benchmarks – courage, character, respect, strength of spirit – challenged or stripped off their former glory.

Instead, what we have is a set of entitled ‘boys’, creating their own parlance of everyday sexism and ‘female-bashing’ to make themselves feel better, feel ‘manly’, and maybe keep their secret club of chauvinists going.

And if I am irritated by wife-jokes forwarded by men, I am infuriated by wife-jokes forwarded by women. Do yourself a favour, ladies. Stop making your own gender the butt of jokes. Stop paying the everyday sexism forward.

Unsanskari Stree is in her early forties, will only mingle with the right sorts, and regards her dating life with some amusement.

Photo credit: Ravi Sharma on Unsplash